Faculty of Education, Social Sciences and Law

School of Politics and International Studies

'The Virtue of Vice: A Defence of Political Hypocrisy’

12 March 2014 | Seminar

You are warmly invited to the following event, organised as part of Political Theory Research Seminar Series.

Demetris Tillyris - 'The Virtue of Vice: A Defence of Political Hypocrisy’


In The Prince, Machiavelli claimed that a virtuous political life conflicts with an admirable moral life: political excellence necessitates the exhibition of certain ordinary vices - the hypocrisy of the fox amongst others. This paper argues that Machiavelli’s insights on hypocrisy constitute a real and inescapable issue for our democratic politics. I suggest that liberal democratic societies are somehow implicated in promoting and exacerbating the necessity of this vice.

 The argument I advance raises significant problems for the way we tend to approach democratic politics. For, a liberal democratic polity is typically thought to be premised on transparency and candour not on hypocrisy and manipulation. And, as I  suggest, this longing for an escape route from hypocrisy is even shared by the standard dirty hands

(DH) thesis which is mostly owed to Michael Walzer (1973). As I illustrate, what is puzzling with the DH thesis is that whilst it purportedly embraces Machiavelli’s recognition that political expedience requires the practice of certain vices, it appears to be censorious over the practice of hypocrisy in democratic politics.

However, I argue that attempts to deny the necessity and value of political hypocrisy tend to misconstrue what is distinctive of politics and the messy context in which democratic politicians operate. As such, they also mischaracterize the lives democratic politicians lead. Hypocrisy, I suggest, constitutes an inevitable by-product of our ordinary democratic politics and the glue that holds together a virtuous political life.

Location Details

Baines Wing 1.13

© Copyright Leeds 2016